Flash back to three seasons ago when the East Brunswick High School girls’ basketball team finished with a 3-17 record and a sixth consecutive losing season.
Following that dismal campaign, Keith Lane, a longtime coach of boys teams in the district, was chosen to revive the once formidable program, and the result his first season was remarkable. Calling on tried and true coaching methods, Lane guided East Brunswick to a 16-7 record and, most important, restored respectability to a once proud team. Among the many changes, the highly organized coach implemented a series of team-building exercises designed to imprint a winning attitude in the players’ minds that contributed mightily to the turnaround. Following another outstanding record last year (21-6), the Bears are off to a 3-0 start this season and hope to contend for the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Red Division title.
The most recent victory was a 32-30 decision against West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North — the team that knocked the Bears out of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV tournament two seasons ago. East Brunswick was scheduled to meet West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South Dec. 30.
“Much of what we try to do is built around four elements: team chemistry, defense, playing hard and rebounding,” Lane said. “If we stick to those basics in that order, the rest will take care of itself.”
Lane points out that offense is not included in the core four as they are described, but scoring has certainly not been a problem since his philosophy has been implemented with his teams averaging over 50 points a game.
The Bears are led by a pair of capable senior captains, forwards Sydney Greenspan and Allie Warren. In addition to being complete players, each possesses outstanding leadership skills and has taken the point in helping nurture younger players.
The rest of the deep rotation includes sophomores Nicole Johnson, Shanelle Colmon and Sabria Glasgow, all of whom possess good speed and ball-handling skills. Other contributors are seniors Kim Anderson, Abbie Auerbach and Ariana Perez; juniors Dhariti Patel, Bella Petrone, Angini Ragumar and Dormi Valentina; and freshmen Anna Curreri and Alyssa Bondi.
“One of the things we do to build team chemistry is nominating players following practice who demonstrate the most hustle and vote on the top two,” Lane said. “They each receive a bright yellow t-shirt, which they get to wear until the next election. It’s kind of badge of honor.
“Our athletic director, Chris Yannazzo, also gets involved by sitting down with players on an individual basis. He’ll pose different scenarios and asks each how they would handle a potentially disruptive situation. Everything we do is related somehow or another to making those core elements real.”
The Monroe Township High School girls’ basketball team is on a mission. Last year, the Falcons finished 21-6 but dropped the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) title to Piscataway Township High School in the championship game and were eliminated by Marlboro High School in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals. Monroe is hoping the results will be different with the return of a seasoned cast of veterans that hopefully make up for graduation losses.
“We definitely have high expectations for this year, but we have big shoes to fill,” head coach Leigh Vogtman said. “I’m confident we understand the work that has to be put in each day in order to match or exceed the achievements we had last year. We had the opportunity to take our program to new heights over the last two seasons, so we are looking to build on that.”
The big shoes Vogtman references are the departures of point guard and outstanding ball-handler Erica Junquet, who is now at Trinity College, and forward Cindy Foresta, who was a strong presence in the pivot. However, there is an abundance of experienced talent that should make up for those graduation losses.
Senior Hannah Fisher and junior Casey Filiault are both capable guards with excellent ball skills who can assume the controls of quarterbacking the team. The Falcons will also have athletic depth in the paint with seniors Ashlyn Petersen, Erin Seppi and Grace Martini. Petersen is committed to Franklin & Marshall University to play basketball, Seppi is headed to the University of Maryland and will be a goaltender for the soccer team and Martini is committed to East Stroudsburg University to play field hockey.
Monroe’s talent, however, isn’t limited to its starters. A host of other veterans and newcomers are waiting to jump off the bench and get into the action.
Senior Kassidy Utheim showed her value in the pivot last year, and she will receive more touches this season. She is committed to Worcester Polytechnic Institute to play volleyball. The other senior expected to make an impact is Linda Wallentine, who missed her junior season due to an injury.
A pair of juniors, Kennedy Selby and Alexa Coyle, will also see increased minutes, especially since Monroe’s fast-paced tempo requires the rotation to get frequent rest.
“We have six seniors who have played together since fourth grade,” Vogtman said. “So we hope there’s a level of comfort with one another that will result in the team chemistry required to win big games.
“This is a tight-knit group. They are self-motivated and have demonstrated the excitement to take on the challenges of this season.”
Monroe was 3-0 with victories against South Plainfield High School and J.P. Stevens High School — two of the Falcons’ GMC White Division opponents — as well as a win against Plainfield High School Dec. 28 in the opening round of a holiday tournament. The Falcons faced Allentown High School Dec. 30 in the tournament finals.
The teams most likely to challenge Monroe for the division title are Bishop George Ahr High School and Sayreville War Memorial High School. Following a home game with New Brunswick High School Jan. 2, the Falcons will face Sayreville in their first encounter Jan. 5 at the Bombers’ court.
The Edison Wizards Lacrosse Club is announcing registration for two boys teams: for grades 5-6 and grades 7-8.
Players will learn to play lacrosse from experienced coaches and players. The cost of registration is $100. Players are required to supply their own equipment.
Practice will be twice a week starting early March 2016. Games will be played on Friday nights and Saturdays.
Please visit www.wizardslax.com for information regarding registration. Call 732-710-0310 for further information.
I t’s apparent that if South River High School’s boys’ basketball team is to win games this season, it will need to rely on the quick development of young, untested players.
Head coach Rodney Harris, entering his seventh season, lists no fewer than three freshmen — Derrick Whitaker, Zachary Rafano and Michael DeSantis — who could see significant playing time and may even crack the starting lineup.
The Rams split the first two games of the season, dropping a 72-69 decision to Greater Middlesex Conference Gold Division foe South Amboy High School Dec. 18 and bouncing back impressively with a 79-25 victory against Barack Obama Green Charter High School Dec. 21. The Rams visit Keansburg High School Dec. 29 in a nonconference contest and will not resume action until the new year.
“We’re looking for effort and intensity,” Harris said. “If we are to meet all our goals, it will begin with those two elements.”
The Rams won’t be totally dependent on their freshmen to achieve those goals. Senior guards Antonio Martinez and Mario Nigro saw significant playing time last season when each player averaged over eight points per game, and both are off to solid starts, posting double figures in the two games they have played.
The hope is the pair’s offensive production will partially offset the loss of graduated Sean Darrar, who averaged
25.1 points per game and was among the state’s leaders in 3-pointers with 99. Darrar, an all-around athlete who topped the 1,000-point mark for his career, is now at Albright College, where he plays football. The other key loss was Zachary Torres, who averaged nine assists a game.
Harris lists seven others who he believes can provide key contributions this season: seniors Bill Jorge, Angel Pasante and Riley Fernandes, juniors Mathew Pietrzyk and Silvio Cruz and sophomores R.J. Fisher and Jaryn Bullock.
South River, which finished 15-13 a year ago, hopes to contend for the Gold Division title. Harris expects that the team to beat is East Brunswick Vocational-Technical School.
A senior at East Brunswick High School, Greenspan has more than kept up with what can only be described as a feverish pace, combining rigorous academics with an equally demanding extracurricular agenda. When it finally concludes with graduation in June, she will have a future filled with wondrous opportunities.
Grade-wise, Greenspan has achieved a 4.2 grade-point average and has earned numerous academic honors. In addition, she had played a variety of sports throughout grade school and, when arriving at the high school, she narrowed her athletic focus to soccer and basketball after a short fling with golf her freshman year. Greenspan credits her sports endeavors for much of her academic success.
“Varsity athletics have taught me how to manage my time wisely,” she said. “I was able to develop structure, and I’m now more organized. I’m constantly planning my time so things get done.”
Those extraordinary organizational skills are what enabled Greenspan to tackle a schedule filled with Honors and Advanced Placement courses and be an active member of the French Honor Society, National Honor Society and Class Council.
Because of her classroom achievement, Greenspan has compiled a list of over 10 colleges located predominantly on the East Coast where she could matriculate, some of which she has already visited.
When it’s time to make a decision, Greenspan knows she wants to major in civil engineering, environmental engineering and sustainability or urban design and development — certainly a challenge for any student, particularly so since she plans to continue playing sports.
“I don’t have a favorite sport because I truly love both soccer and basketball,” Greenspan said. “Right now, I’m leaning toward basketball, but what’s most important is dedicating everything I can to help my teams win.”
An important lesson Greenspan learned through athletic competition is that team unity correlates to a winning attitude.
“Whether it’s soccer or basketball, I’m very big on chemistry, and the way to build that is through bonding activities outside of practice and games,” she said. “I love making friendships that extend beyond athletics.”
The bottom line, she said, is that a positive mindset leads to team success — a quality that is obviously part of her makeup.
Her self-assurance is most noticeable on the soccer pitch and basketball court and is sometimes mistaken for aggressiveness. Watch Greenspan closely, though, and it’s clear she carefully considers every move she makes.
It was that mentality and natural ability that transformed her into a valuable defender in front of the East Brunswick goal during soccer season and earned her a spot on the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) All-Red Division team.
Now that basketball season has arrived, Greenspan posts up in the paint as the Bears’ pivot player. In East Brunswick’s season-opening 72-30 victory over Edison High School Dec. 18, she deposited a team-leading 20 points and will be counted on to deliver similar performances as East Brunswick hopes to return to the GMC’s upper echelon.
Much of her athletic prowess derives from sheer talent, but Greenspan has applied the same work ethic that made her an outstanding student to improving her skills in the competitive arena.
“I view practices or games as opportunities to improve individually and as a team,” she said. “[As a captain], I try to lead by example, keeping a positive attitude, displaying good sportsmanship and working hard. I hope by doing this, younger players try to emulate my intensity.”
Of course, playing varsity sports places huge demands on her time in and out of season due to camps, practices and games, which brings into question how Greenspan is able to be active outside of sports.
“I try and dedicate as much time as I can to the clubs, and that doesn’t just mean meetings after school,” she said. “I’m often tutoring students, completing community service projects and volunteering at summer basketball and soccer camps for kids with special needs.”
Greenspan credits her family and coaches with providing unconditional support so she could achieve success early in life. Her parents, Nadine and David Greenspan, have always transported their daughter to and from practice and have been her biggest fans. Her father has also coached many of her travel teams, and her brother, Jared, an excellent athlete himself, has been a willing practice partner helping her test some of the new skills she’s learned.
Kevin Brady and Keith Lane, who coach soccer and basketball at East Brunswick, respectively, have also instilled in Greenspan the importance of learning fundamentals and sportsmanship.
Moving forward, though, it’s the young lady herself who deserves much of the credit for what she has become at this stage of her life.
“When I was younger, I did every activity, from competitive dance and gymnastics to soccer and basketball,” she said. “Eventually, I had to make a decision about what route to take in my life, and I chose the sports I play now. It’s probably the best decision I ever made. I love the thrill of competition, knowing that I am always in shape and building relationships with a diverse group of girls.”
It is, to say the least, a very fulfilling life.
The faces change from season to season, but what doesn’t is how the Spotswood High School boys’ basketball team plays an up-tempo transition game that usually leaves opponents breathless.
Imagine what they must be thinking now that head coach Steve Mate said he plans for this year’s Chargers to run even more.
“We’re not big, but the upside is our ability to go up and down the court,” said Mate, one of the best strategists in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC). “We’re going to exploit that as best we can this season.” A number of new faces will play pivotal roles, including four sophomores who demonstrated during the GMC Summer League that they deserve quality minutes.
Leadership will also be key, and Spotswood is certainly in good shape there with veteran senior guards Eric Dadika (15.5 points per game) and Marlon Hart (13.6 points per game). Both can also drain shots from any place on the court and will be counted on heavily to handle the scoring load.
Two juniors, J.T. Vento and Andrew Fuzesi, will also be important to the rotation because of their athleticism and explosiveness and will be a perfect complement to the Chargers offense.
The sophomores expected to see action are Abdullah Nieskens, a small but quick guard who can shoot; Nate Carone, an effective rebounder; Vincent Guardiola, a multi-talented athlete who has developed an aptitude for understanding the game; and Justin Dekovics, who will come off the bench to add scoring punch.
Two other seniors who should see regular action are Shawn O’Connor, who quarterbacked the football team and has developed a knack for doing the little things that make him a valuable asset, Mate said, and Dan Newton, who has developed confidence in his shot.
Spotswood finished last season 15-10 and fourth in the GMC Blue Division.
However, last year’s champion, Cardinal McCarrick High School, will not be a factor since the parochial institution closed its doors in June.
“I think we’re going to surprise people,” Mate said. “J.F. Kennedy [Memorial High School] has some big kids coming back and Bishop Ahr is always a tough opponent, and I expect they will compete for the title. But we’ll be in the mix too.”
There is no doubt the St. Joseph High School of Metuchen’s boys’ basketball team is favored to win the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Red Division title.
The Falcons are winners of three out of the last four division titles and have captured the conference tournament five of the last six seasons. They are loaded again and could wind up capturing the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions crown.
However, that doesn’t mean division foes like East Brunswick High School are simply going to gift-wrap the championship trophy and present it to the Falcons without so much as meeting them on the court.
“You can’t go into any gym in the Red Division and expect an easy win because it is loaded with quality teams,” Bears head coach Mark Motusesky said.
East Brunswick (17-8 last year) is a legitimately talented team that will win its share of games, possibly more than last season, and will be a tough out once the state tournament commences.
The Bears return three senior starters who averaged in double figures: shooting guard Matt Ross (17 points per game), point guard Mike Vick (10 points per game), and pivot man Addis Ralph (12 points per game). Senior power forward Justin Sewnarine (four points per game) saw action last year and will join the starting lineup along with another senior shooting guard, Mike Brizuela.
Newcomers hoping to become part of the rotation include senior shooting guard Atiqu Shaikh; juniors Dante Ralph (center), Gil Wyman (power forward) and Ezra Levitt (shooting guard); and sophomores Jesse Perel (power forward), Joe Sampson (shooting guard) and Ryan Crocco (power forward).
“We expect to compete for a sectional (Central Jersey Group IV) state title and be one of the better teams in the GMC if our newcomers give us quality minutes along the way,” Motusesky said. “Matt, Mike [Vick] and Addis will be our leaders, and it will be up to them to help us achieve our goals.”
Motusesky acknowledged St. Joe’s is not only the favorite to win the division but is arguably the top team in the state. However, he expects his team to provide competition along with South Brunswick High School and Old Bridge High School.
The Bears open the season Dec. 18 hosting North Brunswick Township High School and visit Perth Amboy High School Dec. 22. The Bears will also be part of the Windsors vs. Brunswicks Tournament and will visit West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North Dec. 28 and play at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South two days later.